Thursday, February 25, 2021

Fly on the Wall | Modi drawing Leaf out of Nehru

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Modi drawing Leaf out of Nehru
There is no dearth of cheerleaders who have termed the Chinese withdrawal from the finger areas in the Galwan Valley as “historic” win for PM Modi. No doubt, with visuals of Chinese withdrawal created a fervor and a welcome development. But it was certainly not the first time when the Chinese had retreated from the Galwan Valley. They had done it first time on July 7, 1962 by unilaterally withdrawing from the same Galwan Valley bringing huge jubilation in the country and relief to the then PM Nehru. In fact, India had not retreated an inch from the Galwan Valley then. But the Chinese retreat was a trap as they returned 96 days later on October 20, 1962 to attack India. India suffered a humiliating defeat then. The cheerleaders may have forgotten the lesson in history but not Modi. He is aware of the pitfalls ahead and it is because of this very reasons that neither Modi nor NSA Ajit Doval have spoken a word about it. Even Defense Minister Rajnath Singh gave no details when he read out a statement in Parliament on February 11. The MEA has also been coy about the agreement. Reason: If the Chinese have retreated from the Pangong Tso, India has also retreated from the Rachin La and Rezang La hills in the Kailash range. India is now mounting pressure on the Chinese to pull back from the Hot Spring, Gogra in the Depsang Plains. Modi is waiting with a bated breath of what the Chinese will do in the days, months or even the years to come. Modi has been deeply hurt. After all, it was he who invited Xi Jingping in 2014 to Gujrat Riverfront and both were spotted swinging together. But April 2020 intrusion changed the course. He has drawn a leaf out of the archives not to allow the Chinese to take him for a rise.

Business & Border inter-linked
Modi has made two major changes while dealing with China and Pakistan; one is that Business bonhomie and Border confrontation can’t go together and two; External Affairs Ministry won’t be allowed to dominate decisions of the Defense forces on the ground. Modi snapped all ties with Pakistan after his failed unscheduled Pakistan visit in December 2015. The same is being done with China after the April 2020 border row when India was in the midst of Covid crisis. The trade ties can’t be snapped overnight. But they have been put in the slow lane, banned Chinese apps, no Chinese entry in 5G technology and no free flow of FDI either. Secondly, the forces have been given a free hand to deal with the situation on the ground without overriding powers of the MEA. The MEA will be in the loop certainly.

How Modi pipped Rahul
Rahul Gandhi may have inadvertently given pleasure to the “Modi Bhakts” when he said in Puducherry the other day that there should be a ministry of Fisheries in Delhi. It was a faux pas as Modi had created such a ministry in June 2019 itself and Giriraj Singh continues to be the first Minister for Fisheries. But what was drowned in the butt of jokes was that Rahul Gandhi wanted fishermen to be treated as farmers. He wanted that fishermen be treated as ‘farmers of the sea’ like the farmers of the land. But his message was lost and Modi picked up the thread sitting in Delhi. He has a sharp nose, worked quietly and a decision was taken overnight. Next day Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced that Fishermen in 9 states and 4 Union Territories will also be treated as farmers. Shah did not stop at this. He went on to announce that millions of fishermen will be entitled to the benefits under the PM-Kisan and get Rs 6000 per year. Obviously, it will directly benefit the fishermen in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry – all poll bound states. According to the Fishery Survey of India, 2003, the population of fishermen in India was 1.44 crores.

Importance of being Nana Patole
Rahul Gandhi may have been busy launching a blistering attack on Modi on three farm laws. But what a pity! The AICC doesn’t have a Chief of Kisan Congress for one year after Patole quit. Insiders say the post was kept vacant by Rahul Gandhi for his bĂȘte noir as Patole as PCC Chief. Perhaps, he may do backseat driving in the Kisan Congress too.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Fly on the wall | Pawar’s mysterious Silence in Rajya Sabha

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Pawar’s mysterious Silence in Rajya Sabha
The entire political class is baffled about the mysterious silence of NCP supremo Sharad Pawar when the Rajya Sabha discussed three farm laws for days together. It was expected that the tallest farmer leader from Baramati who was UPA’s Agriculture Minister for ten long years, will put the record straight. If a leader of his stature had spoken, farmers and the government would have listened to him. He is perhaps the only one who could have told the farmers to end the agitation as farm laws had been stayed for 18 months and has the stature to tell the government also to mend fences and find a way out. After all, it was Pawar who had brought many agricultural reforms during his tenure at the Centre and earlier in Maharashtra. Pawar was very much stationed in Delhi during the session of Parliament. But he maintained a mysterious silence in Rajya Sabha and chose to field Praful Patel instead. Though former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda who takes pride in calling himself “poor farmer from Karnataka” spoke in Rajya Sabha. But he has lost his rhythm and touch. Pawar could have made the difference. But he looked the other way. Why?? No answers are coming from the NCP.

Why PM is angry with Babus?
Ever since Modi came to power in 2014, the Babus are the worst sufferers. Gone are the days when they used to rule the roost and ministers used to eat out of their hands. In some of the ministries, the bureaucrats used to work as brokers between private players and politicians to reap the harvest. They were partying in 5 star hotels, playing golf, coming to the office at will etc. PM Modi talked of this Lutyens Delhi culture in 2014. Since then, Modi has been tightening the noose and Babus are now a nameless & faceless class. The Lutyens’ Delhi does not recognize when PM’s Principal Secretary PK Mishra takes a walk in the Lodhi Gardens. Modi wants to end Babus direct interaction with the businessmen completely and doggedly pursuing ‘faceless’ resolution of grievances. The Babus were crestfallen when Modi had a dig at them in the Lok Sabha saying they are not experts to run airlines, chemical or companies and everything. No PM has questioned their ability to deliver. Obviously, Modi was peeved that Babus are creating one hurdle after the other in the implementation of his policies. He blames them for sabotaging his vigorous divestment program and mobilizing Rs two lakh crores by selling PSUs. Modi feels Babus are to be blamed for it and gave them public bashing. Modi is now hoping for a Bonanza this year.

Rahul calling shots, G-23 crest fallen
Rahul Gandhi is neither Congress president nor Parliamentary Party leader. He has declared he won’t hold any post and rather no Gandhi will hold it either. But he continues to call the shots in the party, Parliament and makes no bones about it. He doesn’t mince words and is rather ruthless in getting things done. The Group of 23 dissident leaders had thought that he would be conciliatory to them after Priyanka Gandhi’s meetings with Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma. Both are part of G-23 letter writers. But their hopes were dashed when Sonia Gandhi sent a letter appointing Mallikarjun Kharge as Leader of Opposition in place of Ghulam Nabi Azad three days before his retirement. It sent Anand Sharma sulking who was in the race for the top post. The shocker came when Nana Patole was appointed as Maharashtra PCC chief. Now the word is that Patole may be given a ministerial berth making one of the Congress ministers resigning. The issue was broached when Patole met Rahul in Delhi. It is said that one Congress minister will quit to make room for Patole. No final word has emanated from 12 Tughlaq Road, the official residence of Rahul Gandhi in this regard. K C Venugopal is gradually replacing late Ahmad Patel in AICC.

The lone winner
The NaMo administration cleared 26 IAS officers of 1988 & 1989 batch to be promoted as Secretary and 14 as Secretary Equivalent. Maharashtra was lucky as Rajesh Agrawal was the lone officer figuring in the list of 40. But he too was made Secretary Equivalent and not as full secretary. Not a good sign for the richest and one of the largest states.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Fly on the wall - PM’s olive branch to Azad

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

PM’s olive branch to Azad

Whether it was an emotional gesture or deep politics, no one can vouchsafe. But it was the rarest of the rare moment in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday last when PM Modi told Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Aazad, “Do not feel like you are no longer in the House. I would not let you retire, I will continue taking your advice. My doors are always open for you.” Azad is bidding adieu to his 41 year long parliamentary career. It transpires that the Gandhis were upset with him for something and hence he was not re-nominated to the Rajya Sabha and left high & dry. It is in this backdrop that Modi made this offer stunning everybody. Modi has never made such an offer in public to any Opposition leader. On his part, Ghulam Nabi Azad made no secret of his chemistry with Modi saying, “Two people always greeted me during festivals and my birthday for many years - Congress president Sonia Gandhi and PM Modi." Aren’t bells ringing!!! The BJP doesn’t have a tall Muslim leader and those in its kitty are hardly of any stature. Ghulam Nabi may be of use for Modi’s international brotherhood outreach having huge experience behind him.

Pawar & Cong disconnected!

There is a long history of love-hate relationship between the Congress and NCP since 1999. They buried the hatchet to form the MVA government. But all is not well these days and gone are the days of Sharad Pawar-Rahul Gandhi bon-homie. Pawar is unhappy because the Congress torpedoed his plans to make him UPA co-chairman and now he is on his own trip. He is stitching alliances with TMC, SP, YSR-Congress, TRS, BJD, Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and others. Rahul is content with the DMK, Left, IUML etc. Even the RJD is cool towards Rahul Gandhi these days. The Congress was left in the lurch when the delegation of 10 Opposition parties went to meet farmers on Delhi borders consisting of Supriya Sule and others. The appointment of Nana Patole as Maharashtra PCC Chief turned out to be the last straw in Camel’s back. Pawar’s reluctance to give the Speaker's post to Congress is part of NCP’s plan, say insiders. Is something cooking??? Watch out!!

Cooking Golden goose

When the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) scheme was launched by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru in November 1951, had not imagined that it would become a tool in the hands of the rich to cook golden goose. It was to help employees in the public and private sector with employers contributing their 12% share in their accounts. There was no limit for employees to deposit money in their accounts. The interest income is tax-free without limit. For 70 years, the rich employees raked in mullahs. But they did not realize that PM Modi has the uncanny knack of tracking those making a killing. Interestingly, top bureaucrats who are big beneficiaries of this scheme never pointed it out to successive Finance Ministers about rich employees making a killing. The PM sought a detailed report and was shocked to learn that the largest single deposit in the account of one employee in EPF was over Rs 100 crores. It was also noticed that such employees earned tax-free interest income of more than Rs 50-60 lakhs year after year. The number of such huge beneficiaries is 1.20 lakhs employees and they put a staggering Rs 62,500 crores in their EPF accounts. There are 5 crores EPF account holders. The EPF has a corpus of Rs. Seven lakh crores as on February 1, 2021. The scheme was for employees earning Rs 15000 or more a month. The Union Budget has capped interest free income at Rs 2.50 lakhs per year now, down from Rs 50 lakhs earlier. Another loot and scoot stopped!

Biden, So near & so far

When US President Joe Biden nominated 20 Indian-Americans to key positions in his administration, it was hailed as a big win for India and Modi's leadership. But analysts pointed out that Biden excluded those who are considered close to the RSS-BJP like Sonal Shah and Amit Jani. Sonal Shah’s father was the president of Overseas Friends of BJP-USA and is the founder of RSS-run Ekal Vidyalaya. The suspicions of Biden’s not-so-friendly attitude came correct when many close to the Biden administration lent their support to agitating farmers in India including the niece of Vice President Kamala Harris. External Affairs Minister Jaishankar has a tough task in hand.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Fly On the Wall | Sonia rises, takes charge

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Sonia rises, takes charge

Sonia Gandhi is trying to do what she is known for; stitching alliances. She successfully dislodged Vajpayee in 2004 by fixing alliances. But 2021 is not 2004. She has lost her most-trusted aide in Ahmed Patel and Rahul Gandhi has failed to enthuse workers and people at large. In 2004, Rahul had brought with him a hope to rejuvenate the party. Be it as it may, Sonia made a passionate appeal to all CWC members including dissidents that the first priority is to defeat the BJP in the ensuing Assembly polls. After clinching peace within the party, Sonia Gandhi has now charted on a course to retain Puducherry and wrest AssamIn Kerala, the Congress may be face-to-face with the Left parties but both are in alliance in West Bengal. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress is playing a second fiddle to the DMK. The way Sonia Gandhi deputed Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel as observer to Assam and he clinched alliance with five other Opposition parties in no time, has made BJP worried. The BJP and Bodoland People’s Front have already parted ways. Baghel is keeping the faction-ridden state unit together after the death of party’s tallest leader Tarun Gogoi and creating a new positive narrative. Sonia also over-ruled Rahul for a change and allowed Congress-Left alliance in West Bengal. A loss for Congress in these crucial states is a big worry for Sonia as BJP has left no stone unturned to win West Bengal, retain Assam and toy hold in TN, Puducherry and Kerala.

CBI Truly Independent

Those doubting independence of CBI need to change their opinion, for a change. It showed great alacrity in completing probe into the Hathras rape & murder case. Yogi Adityanath denied these charges saying it was a conspiracy to destabilize his government. The September 2020 incident had rocked the nation and a probe was entrusted to the CBI. It was presumed that the CBI will sit over it for months or even years. After all, there are many such cases where the CBI continues to probe awaiting forensic evidence, viscera report etc etc. Even the last example is of Sushant Singh Rajput alleged suicide in June 2020. The Mumbai police was no evidence of murder, the NCB found no evidence against Sushant’s live-in partner Rhea Chakraborty oabout drugs, the ED was forced to eat the humble pie and other agencies went silent. But the CBI continues to investigate it giving no explanation of abnormal delay even after Bihar elections are over. But the CBI confirmed within four months it was a case of rape and murdere. It came as a huge setback to the Yogi. When Yogi expressed his unhappiness with political masters in Delhi, he was politely told, “We don’t interfere in CBI’s functioning. It’s truly independent.” No doubt, the steady rise of the saffron-robed monk may have created heart-burns in Delhi. For the saffron brigade, he is an icon and favourite leader and in great demand across the country for campaigning. In the power corridors of powers, the CBI’s Hathras case is seen as a politically-loaded move to cut Adityanath to size. Wait for the last word!!

Lucky CBI Chief?

A big exercise is on for the selection of new CBI Chief as present incumbent R K Shukla is set to retire on February 1. But there is no sign of meeting of the Selection Committee comprising Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and Leader of the single largest party in Lok Sabha (Congress) to pick a new chief. Rakesh Asthana, DG, BSF and Dr Y C Modi, DG, NIA are the top contenders for the post. Both are PM’s favourite buddies. But a PMO insider says something else is cooking too. There may be a surprise in store for the low-profile, nameless, faceless R K Shukla. He has done a commendable job during the past two years. He doesn’t meet the media, doesn’t come on TV. The Boss likes such officers. So why disturb the arrangement? Why not give an extension, asked the source.

Bureaucracy Supreme

The DoPT under the PMO keeps issuing one circular after the other urging the babus (IAS) to submit their immovable property details under the Conduct Rules, 1968 inherited by them or owned or acquired or held on lease or mortgage, either in his/her own name or in the name of any member of family or in the name of any other person. Half of the Babus don't care to respond. There is nothing unusual about it.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Fly on the Wall | Modi’s baffling gift to Yogi

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Modi’s baffling gift to Yogi

The nomination of A K Sharma, Prime Minister Modi’s most trusted bureaucrat, as BJP MLC in UP continues to baffle the political class. Sharma was among Modi’s inner circle of officers when he was Chief Minister of Gujrat in 2001. Be it P K Mishra, K Kailashnathan, J C Murmu, R K Asthana, A K Sharma etc, they were all part of Modi’s CMO. When Modi moved to Delhi in 2014, a battery of around 12 officers moved along. But Modi decided to keep K Kailashnathan in Ahmedabad itself as Anandiben Patel’s CMO. The status of KK, as Kailashnathan is known in the bureaucratic fraternity, didn’t change even after Vijay Rupani took over as CM. KK was Chief Principal Secretary of Modi in 2013 and remains so in 2021 irrespective of who is CM, Gujrat. He is considered “Saheb’s proxy” because Modi talks only to KK and the wheels of administration move accordingly. PK Mishra replaced Nripendra Mishra as Principal Secretary in the PMO and RK Asthana continues to be a powerful IPS officer. J C Murmu was made Lieutenant Governor of Jammu & Kashmir to be Modi’s eyes & ears in Srinagar. But somehow, he could not pass the muster and was brought back to Delhi as CAG. Therefore, the shifting of A K Sharma being sent to UP for a political inning is baffling given Modi's style of functioning. No one in the BJP handling UP affairs was willing to throw any light as to how A K Sharma was chosen as MLC? Who proposed his name? And why did Modi lend his most-trusted officer to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath? If he was most trusted, then why was he ousted from the PMO in the first place in 2020?

Another KK in Lucknow?

It is no secret that Yogi Adityanath is on his trip in UP and not like other BJP Chief Ministers who pay obeisance to political masters. Insiders in the BJP say that Karnataka CM B S Yediyurappayu is another pain in the neck of the party high command. Yogi doesn’t take the call of many senior leaders. The Central high command was also upset after Yogi Adityanath cut Sunil Bansal, the unquestioned king of Lucknow to run the affairs, to size.
Lately, there have been issues relating to handling crimes in the state and law & order problem, the latest being the Hathras case. Many complain that Yogi has not risen from caste-politics either despite being a loner, unmarried and honest. One school of thought is that it was Yogi who requested the high command to give him a competent person as he doesn’t trust his two deputy Chief Ministers. A K Sharma hails from Azamgarh and can play some role. No one is sure if Nitin Gadkari had a role in Sharma’s going to UP because he worked under him in the MSME as Secretary. No final word has come out about the future role of MLC AK Sharma. Will he be another KK in Lucknow?

Nadda’s rising clout

BJP president J P Nadda is back in action and batting on the front foot in West Bengal polls. He played a key role in the selection of seven Union Ministers who were made incharge of seven regions for Assembly polls. Obviously, Nadda's graph has risen after big Bihar won. Only recently, a couple of Chief Ministers of BJP ruled states wanted to call on the PM. But Modi politely conveyed to them to first apprise “Nadda ji” about the issues. Another major change jolted the party when three posts of joint general secretaries (Organisation) were discarded. Is RSS allowing a free hand to Nadda and General secretary (Organisation) B L Santosh? One will have to watch.

Why Govt doesn't communicate

Be it farm laws or any other issue, the Modi government’s bane is it to rush into decisions and lacking in communication. The classic example is of giving Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to Bharat Biotech’s Covaxine without phase-III trial data. It was alleged that the government had rushed into giving preferred treatment violating rules and risking lives of people. But no one, not even the IMCR, Drug Controller General of India or even the Health ministry said that the rules for EMA were amended way back in March 2019, a year before the Covid break out. The policy was changed by regulators to give EUA for vaccines without waiting for phase-III trial results. No favours were shown to Covaxine per se. When controversy engulfed the scientific community, the rules were dug out from the grave.